Community Farmland Connections through a Targeted GIS Identification and Outreach Approach

2013 Annual Report for CNE12-100

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,953.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Community Farmland Connections through a Targeted GIS Identification and Outreach Approach


With a resurgence of interest in local food and farming, accessible farmland remains a key barrier to small-scale beginning farmer enterprises. In Massachusetts, 90% of farmland lost since 1982 is due to residential development concentrated in the 495 belt and Pioneer Valley. These are the same areas where farmland is sought by new farmers today. Building on a 2011 pilot project, New Entry is using local partners, GIS technologies, and our farmland database and land matching programs to identify smaller parcels of land (2-5 acres each) connected to homeowners or commercial interests in at least six peri-urban communities. Typically, such plots have not been considered part of the farmable land base, yet are well-suited to beginning producers wanting to farm and direct market in their own communities. Land owners will be encouraged to make their land available to interested local producers. Workshops will explain the specifics of leasing land and farming on small plots to all parties. Zoning and other concerns will be addressed by partners to facilitate each community’s approval process. New Entry and local partners will help match landowners to land seekers, addressing access, infrastructure needs, leasing terms, and any factors that arise. Resource Guides will be developed for communities, landowners and new farmers in these and other communities to expand the process statewide. A database will track the land base in each community, interested farmers, and successful matches.  This initiative will help solve a key barrier to the development of more sustainable community food systems.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objective 1. Work with six towns to map available agricultural land

To date, we have completed work mapping and performing landowner outreach with six towns in eastern Massachusetts (Topsfield, Groton, Concord, Westport, Dartmouth, and Lincoln). Work was done with Topsfield, Groton, and Concord in 2012 and with Westport, Dartmouth, and Lincoln in 2013. The towns of Concord, Dartmouth, and Westport have expressed an interest in continuing to hold landowner outreach events using the data obtained through our mapping. We will be the main presenters at the workshops held in these towns going forward.


We have begun work with the agricultural community in Hamden County, which includes 23 towns. We have mapped farmland resources in each town in the county and will create a land/landowner database for each town as they agree to partner and move forward with outreach. We do not plan to meet with each town individually but to have regional meetings with the agricultural commissions as well as regional landowner outreach events and workshops. Thus far we have met with the towns of Ludlow and Monson and hope to progress with several regional landowner outreach events in the spring.

Objective 2. In each town, work with at least five landowners who wish to make their land available to a farmer.

We have found that landowners have been waiting approximately one year to come forward and express a serious interest in farmland leasing. As a result of the 2012 work in Topsfield, Groton, and Concord, we received phone calls, e-mails, or Landowner Applications in summer/fall of 2013 from 14 landowners. We have recently been getting more responses as the weather has gotten colder and expect that the number of respondents from the 2012 workshops will continue to increase. We have already been contacted by 5 landowners from the 2013 workshop but expect that more respondents will be in contact in 2014-2015.

Objective 3. Increase the agricultural land base in each community by 10-50 acres.

We have found that the majority of opportunities that have arisen from these workshops are slightly smaller than expected. Landowners with properties containing 2 acres or less, of usable farmland area, have come forward more than any other group. Thus, although we have gotten a fair response from landowners, the acreage increase in the agricultural land base in each community has not been significant. However, the size of these available parcels has worked out well for a number of the beginning farmers that we work with and a few have already been matched with properties identified through this work, all of which are 1 acre or less in size.

Objective 4. Development of a field-tested tool-kit for community organizations wishing to undertake this work.

Status: We have compiled stories and results of the project to date and are in the process of developing  a tool kit for community organizations looking to create GIS mapping and landowner outreach projects in their communities.  We are working on a draft toolkit now that highlights the work we have completed in six towns to date.

Objective 5.

Status: The final draft of this guide has been completed and is now in the graphic design phase. It will be completed by March 2014.


March 2013: We held a “Leasing Your Land to a Farmer” event in Dartmouth, in partnership with SEMAP and TTOR, inviting landowners identified in both Dartmouth and Westport. We also met with the Agricultural Commissions of Ludlow and Wilbraham, though there was not a good attendance from Wilbraham. The Ludlow Agricultural Commission was extremely interested in viewing the map and data and expected that after reviewing the information that they would be happy to organize an event in conjunction with Wilbraham or alone.


March – June 2013: During this time there was staff turnover at New Entry.   Becca Weaver left the position to pursue agricultural education at UC Santa Cruz.  Ashley Davies is now the Project Contact.


June 2013: The final draft of the “Plain Language Guide to Farming Multiple Plots” was completed and is now in the process of being developed into its final layout and graphic design.


July 2013: We were in contact with the Town of Monson Agricultural Commission, they expressed interest in the project but wanted to wait until the winter to meet.


June – August 2013: We worked with the Town of Lincoln on finalizing their agricultural maps, planning the landowner outreach event, preparing outreach materials, meeting with the Board of Selectmen, and creating the presentation.


November 2013: We held a “Future of Agriculture” event in Lincoln. There was a great turnout of both landowners and farmers. Great conversations were had, and some matches were even started at the event. Five landowners have contacted us as a result of this event.


December 2013: We have been in touch with the Westport Land Conservation Trust and TTOR about holding another landowner outreach event in Southeastern MA. With a new Executive Director on board at the WLCT, they are very interested in partnering with New Entry on this.


Throughout the project period, we have continued to provide ongoing technical assistance and farmland matching support to over 55 farmers seeking available farmland.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

As noted in last year’s Annual Report, we have found that the Agricultural Commissions are actually some of the main beneficiaries of this project. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment and knowledge to learn more about farmland resources/inventory in their community and also gives them the map and data product to use indefinitely. All of the Agricultural Commissions that we have worked will continue to use the products that we have provided, and the majority had decided to continue landowner outreach on an annual or regular basis.


Although we have found that the land/landowners that are coming forward to lease to farmers are slightly smaller than we had originally thought (2-5 acres vs. 0-2 acres), we have realized that this is still beneficial to many new/beginning farmers. With parcels of this size it is unrealistic for landowners to charge any amount that would be unmanageable for a new farmer who is working on such a small scale. Additionally, in the peri-urban areas farmers are using SPIN or multiple plot farming which workswell with parcels of 0-2 acres. Accordingly, although we have achieved a smaller acreage increase than originally anticipated, the outcome is a success for the populations that we serve.